This tour will bring you to the top of a Maya temple, and then to the entrance of the Maya underworld. The temple is inside the Maya city of Xunantunich, which is located near the border of Guatemala. Its name translates to “Maiden of the Rock.” After you ascend the walls of its temple, you’ll continue the tour to the Cave Branch River, where you’ll follow the river into a series of caves that had intense spiritual significance for the Maya.
- 8 hrs
- Available Days:
- Every day
- 6:00 AM, 6:15 AM, 7:00 AM
- Hotel Transport Included
- Mobile Ticket Included
- Offered in English, Spanish
To reach Xunantunich you’ll take a 2-hour drive from Belize City. Then your tour group will climb aboard a 19th-century hand-cranked ferry. This ferry takes you across the Mopan River – look out for the green iguanas that loll on its banks. From the other side of the river, a short shuttle ride will bring you to the entrance of Xunantunich. Your group will meet at the visitor’s center for a presentation on the history of this ancient city. As you walk around the archeological site, you should keep an eye out for birds and howler monkeys. Your guide will point out plants that the Maya ate and used medicinally, such as ramon tree, cotton tree, and allspice.
Xunantunich is located on the highest plateau in the area. This site is know for its stellae – large slabs of carved stone that depict Maya rulers and warriors, dressed in elaborate costumes and surrounded by symbols of power. Your tour of Xunantunich culminates with a visit to the temple called El Castillo. This is the tallest of this site’s temples at 130 feet (40 m). Steps lead up the face of the temple, and visitors are welcome to make the climb. About half way up the temple you’ll see enormous carvings of Maya gods. If you climb to the top, you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the Belize River Valley.
After your visit to Xunanantunich, you’ll continue to the Caves Branch Outpost in the Nohoch Che'en Caves Branch Archeological Reserve. The outpost is located a few hundred feet from the Caves Branch River. This river winds through caves that the Maya used for religious rituals.
Before the tubing begins, your guide will make sure you have all the equipment you need, including personal tubes, a hard-hat with a headlamp and a life vest. As you hike to the cave, your guide will tell you more about the flora and fauna in the area. You’ll also hear about Xibalba (pronounced she-bal-ba) and how the Maya believed caves served as the entrance to the underworld of the afterlife.
Eventually you reach a tunnel that leads underground. Before you enter the subterranean river, your guide will review some safety information. Then you’ll climb into your inner tube and float down the gentle river through the cave system. Impressive stalagmites and stalactites and crystalline formations give these caves an otherworldly appearance.
The journey through the caves ends with a free float on the open river after you exit the cave. Your tour group will head back the outpost, where you’ll get to relax over lunch at the Canopy Café. This café has a large buffet with lots of options so you can refuel before heading back to your hotel.
Home to the second largest Mayan pyramid in Belize, Xunantunich is one of the most impressive Mayan sites in Belize. The site is composed of three major ceremonial plazas surrounded by numerous temples, palaces, and house mounds. Xunantunich is located 8 miles (13 km) southwest of San Ignacio on the Western Highway.
What to Bring
Hiking shoes, hiking clothes, sunscreen, sun glasses, a hat, a towel, bottled water, and a camera. A change of clothes and shoes is recommended.
Transportation, guided tour, fees, all of the required equipment, a buffet lunch, and a beverage. (Minimum 4 Participants)
Many of our tours and activities offer transportation pick up & drop off options from several locations and destinations. Options vary by tour, see “BOOKING REQUEST” for full details.
Similar things to do
On this tour, you’ll get to see two very different Maya sites. The first, Xuanantinuch, is the ruins of a compact but impressive Maya city. Here visitors can stroll around multiple plazas and temples. At the nearby Barton Creek Cave, you’ll see a cave that served as an entrance to Xibalba, the Maya underworld.
Actun Tunichil Muknal cave is the doorway to Xibalba, the Maya underworld. This cave contains ceramics and human skeletons that have fused with the walls of the cave. The most famous of these remains is the Crystal Maiden, a skeleton of a young woman believed to have been a sacrifice. Her bones are now partially covered with the sparkling build-up of cave sediment.